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June 21, 2010

15 Rough-Water Fishing Tips

High seas demand special tactics and teamwork - here are top tips from the pros' playbooks

Tip 4: Troll flat heads.
Tip 5: Add chin weight to ballyhoo.
Tip 6: Go to a Wide Range.

Sawley's trolling present­ation changes in rough water as well. "When it's [only] choppy, we'll use a little chugger head on the ballyhoo, but its concave head pops and snatches out of the water when it gets rough," Sawley says. He prevents this by switching to a flat head in heavy seas. "If that doesn't keep it in the water, we'll add a half-ounce [of lead] or so under the chin." He tows heavier versions of his favorite Gary Bost teasers, made with an extra ounce or two of lead, and has a selection of lures that don't fly out of the water when it's rough ( "Longer, flat-headed lures are very good in rough water," Sawley says. "If all else fails and you can't keep your lures in the water, go to a [Mold Craft] Wide Range."

Tip 7: Try moving trolled baits/lures closer or farther.

Trolling spreads differ when rough and depend on a pro's experience; see what works best for you. Freelance skipper Mike Merritt (, for example, moves his baits closer to the boat in big seas. He says they don't blow as far out of lanes, and bites are easier to identify. Sawley, on the other hand, sets spreads farther back where, in his opinion, baits or lures troll better in rough water, relying on his crew's skill. Both captains throw teasers and pitch baits close to the stern where trolled baits won't effectively stay in the water. And both skippers, as well as McCune, adjust course and speed and lower outrigger halyards until baits troll well over the seas.

Tip 8: Increase hook and leader sizes.
Tip 9: Advantage angler with slightly heavier tackle.

While George McElveen grew up fishing in Maryland and Delaware, he chose the Florida Keys for his charter business ( Strong springtime easterlies pushing against the Gulf Stream are particularly productive for kite fishing. Such conditions also pile up the seas, and that's just the way McElveen likes it. "Instead of digging against the current, [sailfish] get up on top. It's like they're surfing with their tail on the surface," McElveen says. He also sees lots of big dolphin and cobia, and an occasional white or blue marlin, using the sea the same way. "The rougher, the better," McElveen says. "Sometimes we see 50 or 60 sails in a day."

McElveen steps up leader and hook sizes since fish have a harder time seeing them in rough water, and he prefers slightly heavier tackle. The latter makes it easier to nail dolphin in rough Keys seas when anglers often pluck them from debris or weed patches by sight-casting. "When it's calm, we have to use really light rods, mainly so we can cast farther," McElveen says. "On rougher days, they're not as spooky, so I can get closer [with the boat]."